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Cse

Both Brad Feld and Fred Wilson have recent posts on their blogs about the availability of a Google CSE for the Venture Capital Network of blogs.  It’s a good idea.  Not to boast but this capability has been available for My Way, The Entrepreneur’s Network since last November.  To use it you either go to the top of the left sidebar of Fractals of Change (you can do it by clicking the “search blog” link at the bottom of each post if you read the blog with a feedreader or in email) or you go to the custom landing page for My Way.

Of course entrepreneurs have to be over-achievers so we also have a little more functionality in OUR search: not only can you use it to search all the blogs in My Way, you can also choose to use it to search blogs which My Way bloggers think are a good extension to the topics covered in My Way.  Just use the radio buttons to decide which kind of search you want.

Note to blogger nerds: We entrepreneurs believe in groovy stuff like open source. Maybe you want to create an option of searching not just your blog or website but some other relevant collections of websites. If that’s the case, you are welcome to the snippet of HTML  I put in the template for my sidebar to implement this feature. The trick was to use a table of radio buttons where the value associated with each radio button is the ID of a different Google CSE. You’ll want to put the IDs of your own CSEs in, of course.  Also note that this code is slightly TypePad specific but I don’t think you’ll have any problem modifying it for whatever blog platform you use.

Full disclosure:  I have copied innumerable features from Fred’s and Brad’s blogs. That’s why I’m delighted to have been ahead of them in this case (not that entrepreneurs and VCs are competitive, of course).

Goggle CSE Experiment #3 – Please Set Up Co-op Profile

I’m having to reject some of the people who sign up as volunteers for my open custom search engine because they do not have a Google Co-op profile.  In this case, I have no way to tie them to their contributions.  Don’t care who they really are but need some way to eliminate those who spam.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH JUST TO HAVE A GOOGLE PROFILE.  I know this is braindead but it’s the way Google Co-op works.  Once you’ve registered for Google Co-op  (perhaps as part of the process of volunteering to add to the Fractals of Change Reader Choice CSE), go to http://www.google.com/coop/manage/cse/profile and set up your Co-op profile BEFORE completing the process of volunteering to work on CSE.  You may find it simpler to go to that Google URL first and sign up for Co-op there, then come back and volunteer.

Thanks.

Google CSE Experiment #3 – The Wisdom of the Crowd

Cse

Google Custom Search Engines (CSEs) can be the product of one person working alone, a defined team, or an open collaboration.  My newest CSE – Fractals of Change Reader Choices – is the latter.  You are welcome to help make this search engine better.

“Better at what?”  is a very good question.  A CSE should have a mission statement.  Most will probably be very specific but this CSE is pretty general: “a selection of blogs chosen by readers of Fractals of Change to be relevant and interesting on the many subjects covered in this blog.”

 

“Why would you search here rather than search the whole Internet?” Actually, when you search here you do search the whole Internet but preference is given to those websites you readers have added to the list.  So, if you know websites which are quite authoritative but don’t have good search engine rankings, this is an opportunity help those sites gain exposure and to help your fellow readers find good information from sites that might usually be in the nether pages of search engine results.

 

“How do I volunteer?”  I was hoping you’d ask.  If you’re already on the Fractals of Change site,  just look near the top of the left sidebar and you’ll see the custom search box pictured above.  If you’re reading this post in a feed reader or email, click here and you’ll see the search box.  The link to “Volunteer to Improve FOC Reader Choices” is the one you want to follow.

 

In order to be a volunteer, you need to sign up for Google Coop; it’s free but sort of a pain.  When you volunteer, you’ll be taken to the Coop signup page if you’re not already a known member.  Please be sure to give yourself a name and a location in the Coop profile – it doesn’t force you to but I’m requiring that.  In fact, I don’t care if it’s your real name and have no way to verify.  But, without this requirement, I’d have no way to remove those who might be using this capability for spamming purposes.

 

The way this all works is that, once you volunteer, you need to be approved.  That’ll usually happen within a day (unless I’m hopelessly offline) and is automatic so long as you provide a name and a location since I really won’t know anything about you.

 

As a volunteer you can both add sites and recommend that sites be EXCLUDED from searches.  Interesting to see what you do.  It’s OK to recommend that a site be excluded because it’s dull, pompous, or inaccurate; but please don’t exclude sites just because you don’t agree with them.  Our CSE should be one that has articulate opinions on both sides of an issue.

 

There’s an obvious temptation to use anything which has open input for spam.  People are going to make pocket change adding worthless sites to CSEs to improve the search engine rankings of those sites and get eyeballs.  Robots will probably be developed for this purpose.  There’ll be a war between the makers of spamming tools and anti-spamming tools.  Frankly, one part of this experiment is to see who wins.  Too much spam will make CSEs worthless.

 

If the owner of a CSE boots a volunteer off the island, all the volunteer’s recommendations get deleted too.

 

Please help if you’re so inclined.

 

[Full disclosure:  Google runs ads on CSEs; CSE owners can’t turn these off unless they’re non-profit organizations which I am not.  CSE owners can share in any revenue from these ads, however, which I do (or at least will if there is any revenue).  The ads are picked by the Google robot presumably based on the search query so no telling what’ll show up.]

 

Other posts in this series:

 

Google CSE – Why It May be the NBT

 

Uses for Google Custom Search Engines – Let Me Count the Ways

 

Google Custom Search Engine – Framing the Results(how to get search engine results to show up on the pages of your site)

 

Google Co-op – Experiment #1  (a CSE which searches My Way Network blogs)

 

Google Co-op – Experiment # 2  (a CSE maintained by the authors of My Way network blogs)

Google Custom Search Engine – Framing the Results

Election over; back to nerding.  This post has some pointers for getting the Google CSE (Custom Search Engine) results page to show up inside a page on your own site or blog. It’s not too hard but takes a little work.

By default, Google search results show up on a Google page.  The reader has now left your site and needs to use the back button to return.  If you frame the search results, you can still leave your navigation sidebar, for example, in place so that the reader can get back to pages on your site if that’s what she wants to do.

Having the results on your site also means that you can use your site monitoring software to capture the search terms readers are using and to monitor where they go when they leave.  These statistics can be valuable in improving the effectiveness of CSEs you’ve built.

Of course, you don’t have to have a web site to have a CSE.  Google will host both your search box and your results page if you want.  In that case, no point in reading the rest of this post.  But, if you do have  a website or a blog, then you probably want to closely link your CSE(s) to it.

As part of the CSE control panel, Google generates code necessary to make search results appear on a page you host.   Google FAQs say that you want to place the search results “in an iframe on your own site.”  At first this sent me off on a wild goose chase.  I’m not really an HTML nerd so I Googled “iframe html” and got this great tutorial.  Made sense: iFrame is a way to embed a page in a page just like IMG imbeds an image. Built an iFrame in a test page and it showed up empty!

Hmm…downloaded the source from some sample sites that have embedded search pages and realized that what Google should have said was “the javascript we’re giving you to embed builds an iFrame dynamically wherever you put it in your page.”  So the net is you just stick their provided code in your page and it builds the iFrame.

Next problem was how to get this page to show up between the sidebars of Fractals of Change which is a TypePad blog.  TypePad documentation was very good on this.  Hopefully other blog platforms are as well.  Seached for “index templates” (lucky guess) in the knowledge base and got this helpful page.  What you want to do is create a new index template by copying the Main Index Template and put the Google supplied code in place of the tag: <$MTWeblogIncludeModule module="entry-list"$>.  The result of doing that is that search results show up where your posts normally do. Here’s how it looks in FOC:

Search

You can also click here to see it live.

Final problem was that the search results as they came back were too wide for my center column.  Looked easy to fix because they have a parameter in their generated code “var googleSearchFrameWidth = 600”.  Changing this, unfortunately, does nada.

Nothing in the documentation about this.  But nerds help nerds; the discussion group for CSEs had the answer (and many others as well).  It all has to do with stylesheets.  You surround the Google supplied code with “<div id="google_results">…</div>” and then you go into your stylesheet (in TypePad the stylesheet is an index template) and set the width for google_results with something like this: “#google_results IFRAME {width: 500px;}”

Side result of this was I now knew enough to make my About page appear between the sidebars as well.  All it needed was another index template and another addition to the stylesheet.  Check it out here.

Uses for Google Custom Search Engines – Let Me Count the Ways

When I get carried away with something, I sit down with Mary and try to convince her my enthusiasm is justified.  Usually she brings me back down to earth.  Sometimes we find ourselves sharing a growing excitement; in the old days companies got started that way.  After I blogged that Google CSEs (Custom Search Engines) may be the NBT (Next Big Thing), we had one of our talks.

If this were the old days, we’d be starting a company.  Not doing that anymore so we’ll share some of our ideas for things that can be done with CSEs.

CSEs will quickly become a standard part of blogs.  Bloggers have long been able to incorporate Google code to search their own blogs so nothing new there.  But it will be the rare blog which doesn’t soon support search of its blogroll or search by category of blogrolls that have been arranged by category.  Look for this on Fractals of Change.

If you’re a blogger who’s expert on a category, your readers will expect you to create a CSE which searches the sites you find credible on the subject.  By the way, the search can cover any sites, not just blogs so this goes beyond searching just your blogroll.

CSEs tie networks together.  My Way, The Entrepreneur Network, which I coordinate, already has two custom searches set up.  Federated Media has a CSE for the blogs (including this one) which it represents.

CSEs are an important way for closed groups to collaborate.  Any of the My Way bloggers can add new sites to one of the My Way hosted CSEs.  It’ll be interesting to see whether the search of only our own blogs or of all the blogs we think are relevant to entrepreneurs and startups will be more useful to our readers.  The group could be a faculty, staff of a company, attendees at a conference, customers of something or other, forum members etc., etc.  Right now invitations can only be sent out to 100 people through Google but there’s an obvious hack to get around that.

CSEs are a way to gather the wisdom of the mob.  The next CSE I plan to set up will let readers of Fractals of Change volunteer to add websites to that search engine.  There is no limit on the number of people who can volunteer.  There’ll be spam problems, I’m sure.  The tools Google has for managing volunteers are primitive and you can’t enlist volunteers to keep tabs on each other as wikipedia does.  Nevertheless, they’ll be great value in some user-created CSEs.

CSEs are drop-dead simple tool for local just-about-anything.  It won’t be long before every chamber of commerce and Rotary has a CSE of its members’ sites.  Why not?  Resorts will have them for surrounding areas.  There should be (and I’m sure there will be) one associated with every airport, train station, and Interstate rest stop. How many companies can you dream up that can have great growth by facilitating some part of this?

CSEs are a simple tool for monetizing free WiFi. A successful model for free WiFi is an advertising frame around a window in which visitors can search the web.  A simple advertising model for that frame is a set of CSEs which are essentially online yellow pages.  This works both for the users who’ll want a local search and for the advertisers who get a targeted audience.

CSEs are a way for charities to recognize and reward their sponsors.  We try to shop at the stores which have supported the charities we care about.  A CSE of their websites linked from the charity’s sites facilitates that. (You can guess that this idea came from Mary who’s always looking for the NBT in non-profit fund raising.)

CSEs are a way to quickly establish a list of resources in an emergency. It literally takes five minutes to set up a CSE. Google’ll host the whole thing if you want.  So you could quickly make a CSE of sites with up-to-date information needed following some sort of disaster.

CSEs are a way of promoting one point of view.  Tired of seeing different points of view than your own when you Google a contentious subject like Net Neutrality or Global Warming.  Make a CSE of only those sites which support your POV.  Or make a CSE which excludes sites that piss you off.

CSEs are a way to get a balanced set of views.  You can make a CSE which includes thoughtful spokespeople on all sides of a complex subject.  You can leave out the flamers.

CSEs are a way to search down the long tail.  You can construct a CSE which searches the whole web but favors the sites you’ve chosen.  Since the global search engines rank sites according to the number of other sites which point to them, brilliant pieces with few links to them are on the unseen page 100+ and something of search results.  Not on your CSE.  Doesn’t have to be that way on your CSE.

CSEs are a revenue source.  It’s mandatory that they carry Google Ad Sense ads (unless they’re set up by a non profit).  All you need is an Ad Sense account to share in the revenue. Earn more than $100 in total revenue (not so easy) and Google will send you a check.  A popular CSE will get lots of hits, though, and should represent a well-targeted audience.  The ads are targeted to the query so should have a good click through rate.

CSEs, themselves, will quickly become a long tail phenomenon. There will be just a few that will get most of the traffic.  The rest will be valuable and will be used in niches but they’ll be in the tail and not in the head.  There is a huge advantage to being an early mover when a new category is growing its tail.  Where’s your CSE?

The first post in this series is about an experiment with a closed CSE;

The second post is about drafting bloggers in the My Way blog network to contribute to a collaborative CSE ;

The third is musings on why CSEs may be the NBT.

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